Sunday, February 8, 2009

Where All Your Glorious Hopes and Dreams about the Teaching Profession Go to Die

I've mentioned several times that I'm out of my building for quite a while, scoring the ELA exams. I'm one of several teachers in my building who have been out multiple days on this exercise. Fortunately, my sentence is being spent with one of my favorite colleagues, which tends to make the time pass more swiftly. Still, this assignment is...what's the right word? Terrifying? Stark? Mind-numbing? Perhaps all of the above?

Allow me to explain fully. The theory behind some of the full-time classroom teachers in my building going out to score these exams was that, having scored the exams, we would be more familiar with what the scorers expect. This seems like a perfectly reasonable theory and I more or less accepted it at face value when my AP first spoke to me about it. Heck, a day or two out of the classroom would be all right, a quick little breather during the long slog to winter recess. That was before I knew how long I would gone--more than a week. Try planning for a substitute for that long. It's not fun. And that was before I knew what scoring the ELA exam is actually like.

I arrived at my assigned site last week for the first of a long string of days. First, we had to be trained on how to score the exam. Seems reasonable, yes? Not when the "training" consists of someone reading a workbook out loud to you. Remember that the people who run these things are teachers. In fact, in many or most cases, they are coaches, which means that they teach other teachers how to be better teachers! And they believe that "training" consists of reading a workbook out loud to people with master's degrees! Now you could argue that this form of "training" is mandated by the powers that be in Albany or whatever, but that only makes the situation even worse: this "training" is then created and mandated by the people who are in charge of the education of millions, instead of dozens or hundreds, of children across New York State.

So my colleague and I got through this, and then we were allowed to score. And we learned that most of the people with whom we were scoring were, to put it very gently, slightly cracked. Whether scoring the ELA exam for this long made them that way or whether they came to the scoring site already in that condition is hard to say, but they were perhaps one or two lesson plans short of a whole unit. I hesitate to describe them too specifically, but I will say that when one told us at great length about a recent restoration of health sabbatical, my opinion was that this individual was not yet, and may never be, "restored" enough to be around young children. Yes, I realize that we can all let our hair down a bit when we're not around the kids. But the level of conversation to which I have been subjected thus far is wildly unprofessional at best. Plenty of people wanted to interrogate me about the principal of my building, who has something of a reputation. I declined to say anything too specific and nothing that could be construed as negative.

And as I write this post, I have begun to worry even more. Many of these people are no longer in classroom positions: as well as coaches, I worked with "literacy specialists" and "SETSS teachers." One would suppose that these are teachers who are perhaps a cut above their colleagues, who have some sort of special expertise, experience, or professionalism that puts them in positions of greater responsibility and influence. But unless these individuals are completely different people when they are in their home surroundings and around children, there was nothing in their conversation or behavior that led me to believe that these were people of exceptional skill and intelligence. And particularly if they are SETSS teachers or specialists of some kind, they are working with our most vulnerable populations. AND, worst of all, if I'm wrong, and they are fantastic, professional, brilliant educators, then we are damaging those most vulnerable populations by removing their teachers for days and weeks at a time to score exams.

One more thing: Teachers, when you are out of your building but still being paid, do attempt to still act professionally. No drinking at lunch. No spending the entire day texting your kid. No wearing sweatsuits. No badmouthing everyone you work with. No showing up late and cutting out early every single day for no good reason. And yes, I have witnessed all of the above recently, both at PD and while scoring the ELA exam.